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Friday, 29 December, 2000, 16:22 GMT
Tories call for youth crime crackdown
Ann Widdecombe visits the Arden estate, Hackney, east London
Ann Widdecombe touring Hackney's Arden estate
The shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe has renewed her attack on the government's record on law and order, calling for the courts to be given greater sufficient powers to deal with young offenders.

A lot of crime in areas like this is down to 12 to 15-year-olds and the courts simply don't have the powers to deal with them

Ann Widdecombe
Speaking during a visit to the inner-city Arden estate in Hackney, east London, Miss Widdecombe said its residents were afraid to leave their homes because of rising crime.

She promised that the Conservatives would bring in more "visible policing" and new measures to deal with youth crime and anti-social behaviour.

Her comments come after weeks of argument between the Tories and the government over crime and policing, particularly in the aftermath of the killing of schoolboy Damilola Taylor in south London.

'Innocent behind bars'

Referring to the home security measures taken by some people living on the Arden estate, Miss Widdecombe said it appeared that the "innocent not the guilty are behind bars under Labour".

She continued: "Everywhere I went today I saw evidence of serious vandalism, drug-taking and crime".

Audrey Billas, chair of the Arden Tenants Association, told Miss Widdecombe crime had continued to rise in the area over the past three years, with more than 1,800 incidents recorded over that period.

Damilola Taylor who was stabbed to death on a London housing estate
Damilola Taylor's death sparked a fresh row over policing
The shadow home secretary, who visited the same estate 15 months ago, said: "A lot of crime in areas like this is down to 12 to 15-year-olds and the courts simply don't have the powers to deal with them.

"We need to take these troublemakers out of these neighbourhoods and put them in secure training centres.

"Then they won't come back laughing from court and a tough message will be sent out to other youngsters."

She said the police were in a hopeless situation as they were bringing the same youths to court over and over again.

Miss Widdecombe promised to create 1,000 secure training places nationwide where young offenders would have to meet targets relating to behaviour and education.

'Carrot and stick' sentencing

They would be released early so long as they reached these goals.

A further incentive in what she described as her "carrot and stick" approach would be that provided they stayed out of trouble for two years after release then, with the exception of serious offences, their criminal record would be wiped clean to give them a better start to life as an adult.

Pensioner Vera Faik, whose home on the Arden estate is protected by two security gates, told Miss Widdecombe she did not feel safe going out, especially at night.

"We have drug-dealing and prostitution problems here and young people stealing cars and setting fire to them.

"I would definitely feel safer going out if there were a few more policemen around."

Miss Widdecombe said: "There are a lot of decent people here and they are living like prisoners in their own homes."

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